A Debt of Gratitude
Harvard’s Rulan C. Pian gave her students more than good tones – her love of teaching gave them an inspiration that has lasted a lifetime
By Perry Link
When I went to college in 1962, I knew that I liked languages, English as well as others. In high school I had taken French, and I thought that in college I would try Chinese. I had lived two years in India as a boy, and might have taken Hindi, but Harvard didn't offer Hindi. It did offer Sanskrit, but I wanted to talk to people who were still alive. "Don't do it," said the undergraduate adviser for Far Eastern Languages, as the department was known in that era. "In your freshman year you should get started in a basic discipline. Chinese takes a lot of time. You can do it next year." For this reason I did not meet Rulan C. Pian until fall of 1963, at the beginning of my sophomore year. I took her course Chinese B. It was a beginning course, but B didn't stand for beginning. (I never did learn what the B stood for.) The adviser a year earlier had been right about one thing: the course took a lot of time. I split my time 50-50 – half on Chinese B, half on everything else.
January 6, 2014